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Fairbrother v. Donahoe

United States District Court, W.D. New York

September 19, 2014

SUZANNE M. FAIRBROTHER Plaintiff,
v.
PATRICK R. DONAHOE, Postmaster General Defendant,

DECISION AND ORDER

MICHAEL A. TELESCA, District Judge.

INTRODUCTION

Plaintiff, Suzanne Fairbrother ("Fairbrother"), brings this action against the Postmaster General of the United States Postal Service pursuant to the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, (codified at 29 U.S.C. § 701 et. seq.)(the "Act") claiming that the Postal Service discriminated against her on the basis of a disability.[1] Specifically, plaintiff alleges that she was discriminated against for having a disability, was denied a reasonable accommodation for hypoglycemia, and was retaliated against for seeking a reasonable accommodation for her condition.

Defendant moves for summary judgement, contending that Plaintiff has failed to establish a prima facie case of discrimination or retaliation. Plaintiff opposes the Defendant's motion. For the reasons set forth below, I grant defendant's motion for summary judgment.

BACKGROUND

The following facts are taken from the Plaintiff's Complaint (docket item 1), the Defendants' Local Rule 56(a) Statement of Facts (docket item 25), Plaintiff's Response to Defendant's Statement of Facts (docket item 29), and the Court's review of the entire record. The facts set forth herein are uncontested except where noted.

Plaintiff Suzanne Fairbrother has been a mail carrier for the Postal Service since 1995. Defendant's Statement of Facts (hereinafter "DSF") at ¶ 2. She continues to be employed as a mail carrier in the Pittsford, New York branch of the Postal Service. DSF at ¶ 5. In 1998, plaintiff was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis, and in 2002, she underwent surgery for removal of her large intestine. DSF at ¶¶ 11, 12. As a result of her surgery, plaintiff follows a restricted diet which requires her to eat smaller meals more often throughout the day. DSF at ¶¶ 13, 14.

In 2010, the Postal Service changed its policy with respect to lunch breaks taken by postal carriers. Under the new policy, mail carriers were required to take their lunch break after they had sorted and loaded mail onto their trucks, and after they began delivering the mail. DSF at ¶¶ 17, 18. Prior to this change in policy, plaintiff routinely took her lunch break after sorting her mail but prior to leaving the post office. DSF at ¶ 22. Plaintiff usually completed her mail sorting between 10:00 and 11:00 a.m., and took her lunch immediately thereafter. DSF at ¶ 26. In July, 2011, however, the post office installed a "flat sorter" machine at the Pittsford Post office, which significantly decreased the time it took to sort the mail. DSF at ¶ 24, 25. Upon the installation of the flat sorter machine, plaintiff completed her mail sorting much earlier: between 8:30 a.m. and 9:00 a.m. DSF at ¶ 27. Thereafter, plaintiff typically took her lunch around 9:00 a.m. DSF at ¶ 28.

Prior to the installation of the flat sorter, plaintiff had presented a note from her doctor stating that it was necessary for Fairbrother to eat her lunch prior to leaving the post office to deliver her mail. DSF at ¶ 30, 31. The doctor's note did not specify the time of day that plaintiff needed to eat her lunch, but simply that she needed to eat lunch to prevent symptoms of hypoglycemia. DSF at ¶ 31. After consulting with a physician, and inviting plaintiff's doctor to contact the consulting physician, the post office rejected plaintiff's request to eat lunch prior to leaving to deliver the mail, and instead proposed that plaintiff eat a snack prior to leaving, and then have lunch once she was out on her deliveries. DSF at ¶¶ 38, 39, 41. Despite the fact that the defendant had rejected her request to take lunch prior to leaving the postal facility, and that the defendant directed Fairbrother to eat her lunch while out on her deliveries, Fairbrother nonetheless continued to eat lunch prior to leaving to deliver the mail. DSF at ¶ 43. Plaintiff admits that she disregarded her supervisor's order that she eat lunch while on deliveries, but claims that she was justified in doing so. Plaintiff's Counterstatement of facts ("PCF" at ¶ 16.

Plaintiff's supervisor, Cindy Bailey, ("Bailey) the Postmaster of the Pittsford office, asked Fairbrother to provide the post office with documentation establishing that plaintiff needed to eat her lunch at a specific time as a matter of medical necessity. DSF at ¶ 45. Thereafter, plaintiff presented a note from her doctor stating that she needed to eat lunch prior to going out on deliveries. DSF at ¶ 45. The note, however, did not state the time of day that plaintiff needed to eat, and did not state why plaintiff had to eat at the post office rather than when she was out on deliveries. DSF at ¶ 46. Plaintiff followed up with another doctor's note stating that although Fairbrother had tried snacking before leaving for deliveries, it did not prevent her from suffering symptoms of hypoglycemia. DSF at ¶ 48. Finally, on April 19, 2011, plaintiff's doctor submitted a note stating that plaintiff needed to eat her lunch between 10:00 and 11:00 a.m. DSF at ¶ 51. Based on this letter, and following the filing of a grievance by Fairbrother, the parties agreed that plaintiff would be allowed to eat her lunch between 10:00 and 11:00 a.m. regardless of where she was. DSF at ¶ 61. As part of the resolution of the grievance, the Postal Service also agreed to pay the plaintiff $1, 500.00.

On September 15, 2011, approximately one month after the grievance was resolved, a postal service supervisor, Tom Tisa ("Tisa") allegedly observed plaintiff eating her lunch in the post office prior to 10:00 a.m., and prior to starting her deliveries. DSF at ¶ 62. Although defendant has submitted a warning letter issued by Tisa to plaintiff accusing her of eating lunch before 10:00 a.m., defendant has not submitted any sworn testimony from Tisa, nor has the defendant introduced any time records demonstrating that plaintiff took her lunch prior to 10:00 a.m. Plaintiff attempts to dispute defendant's allegation by stating that "she believes" that her time card would show that she was eating her lunch after 10:00 a.m., but she has failed to produce any evidence supporting her statement. PCF at ¶ 22. Plaintiff refused to stop eating lunch and begin her deliveries. After arguing with Tisa, she left work for the day without making any deliveries. DSF at ¶¶ 64, 67, 71.

On September 20, 2011, plaintiff was again allegedly observed by Tisa eating lunch at the post office prior to 10:00. DSF at ¶ 72. Defendant, however, has provided no documentary or testimonial evidence to support this claim. Plaintiff again disputes this claim by stating that "she believes" she was eating after 10:00 a.m., but, like the defendant, has presented no evidence to support her contention. PCF at ¶ 24. According to the defendant, plaintiff refused to stop eating her lunch, or take her lunch after 10:00 a.m.

On November 15, 2011, Tisa sent plaintiff a formal letter of warning regarding her conduct on September 15 and 20, 2011. DSF at ¶ 78. According to the defendant, plaintiff filed a grievance following her receipt of the warning, and the letter was reduced from a warning to an "official discussion." DSF at ¶ 79.

Following the lunch-time incidents, the Postal Service sent plaintiff to a doctor for a consultative exam. DSF at ¶ 80. According to the examining doctor, there was no medical necessity for plaintiff to eat her lunch at the post office as opposed to on the road. DSF at ¶ 81. As a result, plaintiff was allowed to ...


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